IT’S one of the big mysteries in Liverpool Football Club’s recent history — why did Gerard Houllier not sign Nicolas Anelka permanently?
The Frenchman made 22 appearances and scored five goals during a six-month loan spell at Anfield and supporters were keen to see the promising striker stay at the club in the long term, but it wasn’t to be and he eventually moved to another Premier League side in Manchester City.
While Houllier and several of Anelka’s former team-mates have since expressed regrets over a move never coming to fruition, Anelka himself has rarely spoken about the issue — until now.
In an exclusive interview with The Anfield Wrap‘s TAW Player, Anelka talked openly about his disappointment at not signing for Liverpool and how it affected his career.
Anelka expressed particular disappointment towards Houllier, who he believes should have helped him as a fellow Frenchman in a foreign country.
“It’s a big shame, because everything was OK, we agreed about everything. He said to me that I will sign. He said to the chairman of Paris Saint-Germain, because at this time I was on loan, and I said I would sign but in the end I didn’t sign, so it is a big shame because I had a good feeling at the club and I think everybody wanted me to stay.
“I will never forget that, especially because he is French. Normally when you go abroad and you are with a French manager he should be helping you and in this case it is the opposite. So I will never forget that happened in my life.”
After his brief spell at Liverpool, Anelka would go on to have a highly successful career which spanned almost 20 years in total and featured over 200 goals, as well as a host of major honours.
But it could have been so different according to Anelka, who believes he would have stayed at Liverpool for a very long time had he been given the chance to sign permanently.
“After that I had to sign for Manchester City, I have a big respect for Manchester City but at this time they were not the standard of Liverpool, and it changed my career. I had to fight and to find another team who were playing in the Champions League — which I did after that when I played for Fenerbahce and Chelsea. But I think if I would have signed for Liverpool I would have stayed for a very long time.
“It’s a big shame. It is something I will never forget. Because I really wanted to stay at the club, I enjoyed my time with my team-mates, with the fans. But it is part of the life, sometimes you want to do something but I moved on and I will never forget my time there.”
One of the myths about Anelka was that he wasn’t good for the dressing room, he was labelled ‘the Incredible Sulk’ by some and his attitude was part of the reason that he didn’t stay on at the club.
In an interview with LFCHistory.net, Phil Thompson claimed: “Nicolas would have upset the football club. Nicolas is a nice guy, but he’s moody. He doesn’t mix. There weren’t any great problems while he was there, but we had problems with his brothers, his contract and everything. Arséne Wenger rang up Gerard and said: ‘Gerard, I have to tell you. Nicolas’ brothers have just rang me up and they’ve asked me to take Nicolas back to Arsenal.’ Once his brothers tried to sell Nicolas to Arsenal while he was on loan at us, that was the end.”
Houllier supported these claims in Simon Hughes’ book Ring Of Fire, insisting that Anelka’s demands would have caused upset in the dressing room and it was best for the club that he wasn’t kept on. These suggestions have since been disproven by Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard though, the former claiming it was a big mistake on the club’s part — not only for the fact that Liverpool ended up with El Hadji Diouf instead.
Gerrard also said: “Nicolas was top class for us and I thought he’d done enough to stay. He was a good lad around the dressing room as well. I’ve always thought it was a shame he’s not still with us.
“What made it doubly disappointing was that I knew how desperate he was to sign on a permanent deal at the time. Unfortunately, these decisions are taken and it’s only when you look back later you can make a judgement. I don’t think anyone will deny we got that one wrong.”
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) May 12, 2017